Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com NHL Insider Craig Custance stops by to chat about the latest news from the ice.
Custance joined ESPN in September 2011 as an NHL reporter for ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN following a stint with the Sporting News. A graduate of Michigan State University, he lived for nearly a decade in Georgia working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he spent time covering the late Atlanta Thrashers.
Send your questions now and join Custance Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (12:59 PM)
Big day today in CBA negotiations. Plus we have WJC prelim rosters, decertification and all kinds of fun things to address. Let's dive in!
Ed Snider (Philadelphia, PA)
Craig, what do you think of the fact that I was NOT invited to the meeting? As one of the senior owners in the league (around since the original '67 expansion), I usually get my fingerprints all over matters like this. At first I was grouped in with Jacobs as wanting a lockout, but now reports have said I am frustrated and want a deal. After all, isn't the ridiculous and malicious (towards Nashville) Weber offer sheet I came up with one of the reasons the league now wants so many contract restrictions...to protect teams from owners like myself.
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
The roster of NHL owners is an interesting one. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Snider on the list and I wouldn't be surprised if Philly wants to play. But the most notable owner to me in the group of six is Ron Burkle. The Penguins are believed to be among the moderates and he has a history of getting deals done. He's not going to back down from any of the other owners and his inclusion is one of the reasons there's even a slight bit of optimism surrounding today's meeting.
Rob (East Lansing)
What do you make out of the report from Boston last night?
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Denied heavily from both sides. But I think we'd all be more than happy if it was true.
why do you think bettman decided to include jacobs over dolan? was there a specific reason for keeping dolan out of today's meetings?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
Jacobs is one of the hard-liners who has been heavily involved in these negotiations from Day 1. If you're the league, you definitely want him in that room. The assumption is that Dolan wants to play and he also has a history of butting heads with the league. Probably wise from their perspective to keep him out of the room.
Since the Board of Governors meeting is Wednesday, will the owners/players meeting only meet today?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
If there's progress made during today's meeting, they've left the option open of having more meetings. Don't think they'd cancel the BOGs but they could still schedule further player/owner meetings around it.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Do yu think that the 2012-2013 NHL Season will be Cancelled?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Chris - Haha. I feel like you've asked this before. I still see hockey being played in January. I'm an optimist. So to answer your question, no.
Is this meeting today a sign that the players are at a breaking point? The owners already have their Season Ticket $$$$, what do they care?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Seakev - I don't see it as a breaking point for the players. I see it as both sides trying to find another way to get a deal made. There's pressure on the owners too, as this drags on they lose more and more money, especially when you start refunding that ST money.
When will the Nhl and NHLPA as a whole realize that the money there trying to figure out how to split, is being lost right now cause they cant agree on a new CBA. But if there is no deal, there is no season meaning there is no money to worry about having to split anyway?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Blake - People get hung up on the money being lost this season but the reality is that this fight isn't about this year at all. It's about the future years of the CBA and even future CBA negotiations. Both sides are willing to take a short-term hit if it means winning in the long run.
If this player / owner meeting fails, would it pretty much mean the season is over?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Bob - It would be a setback but I still think there are a few weeks of real negotiating time before any decisions will be made regarding the season. The calendar may have more of an impact than mediators, player/owners meeting etc.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig.....good god...that is Ron Burkle's entrance music! What are the chances that Burkle, the owner of the Penguins and reportedly one of the moderate owners that wants a deal, and Jeremy Jacobs, the hardest of the hardliners wanting a lockout, actually come to blows at this meeting like Neely and Samuelsson during the great Pens-Bruins playoff matchups of the early 90s? If you read the book detailing the Pens arena deal, Burkle is portrayed as having a sterling reputation for getting deals done under the most difficult of circumstances, especially with labor unions from his supermarket business. Interesting we are finally getting opposing owners in the same room where they will hopefully be forced to confront EACH OTHER with witnesses.
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Jesse - Knowing Gary Bettman and how prepared he is, I think it's a safe assumption that Burkle and Jacobs walk into that room on the same page. Even if your idea sounds much more entertaining.
James Dolan (New York City)
Craig, since I wasn't invited to the actual meeting, do you think they will need a guest musical act? Because JD and the Straight Shots are available? Have handsomely paid professional backing band....will travel.
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Haha. Maybe you're on to something there JD.
Hutch (Austin, Texas)
Craig, what about a UEFA Champions League style tournament if they don't get this figured out in time for some form of a season? Totally unorthodox, but would create a ton of buzz for the league.
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Hutch - I love that question and that idea. You'd have to figure out how to pay the players since they don't get paid during the playoffs now and I'm assuming they wouldn't do something like this for free. And you wonder if the STanley Cup winner would be tainted. But it'd be awesome television and an attention-getter for sure.
The Gazelle (Phoenix, AZ)
So, once the negotiations crumble to dust later today, when will the current NHL players do what needs to be done? Specifically, FORM THEIR OWN LEAGUE. They have the money, and they could get it done in a year, easily. Just hire the best people from the NHL, AHL, European leagues, a few lawyers, some marketing / design firms, and BOOM! The Global Hockey League is born! 8 teams in Canada, 16 in the US, 8 in Europe. Everyone wins! No more lockouts, players are in control of pretty much everything. It could absolutely be done. The NHL is dead. Long live the GHL!!!
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Long live the GHL!
Is there any chance at all that there's truth to the report by Steve Burton that a high ranking official from each side met secretly and and made significant progress toward a deal, and that we'd see an announcement today or tomorrow?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
Joe - That report has been strongly denied by both sides. But by all accounts this is a respected journalist who has put his reputation on the line here.
Do you think that the players/owners-only meeting is just a stall tactic by the owners to prevent/defer the PA from de-certifying? And if this meeting doesn't gain any traction, how soon until the PA does de-certify?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
I think if things go south following this meeting, the decertification talk will get more serious. People I've spoken with say that Fehr is a staunch union guy who would prefer to get this done through collective bargaining but decertification is a chance for the players to go on the offensive. U.S. anti-trust laws suggest the players would have a strong case if they took this to the courts. I'm not sure it would bode well for hockey this season if that's the route things went though.
Rene Fasel (Zurich, Switzerland)
Craig, in response to Hutch from Austin above, as the president of the IIHF I can confirm that although they are not club championships, there will be two huge tournaments coming up with every eligible player available if the NHL season is cancelled...they are called the World Juniors and the IIHF World Championships! Do you think those would have some "buzz"??
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
That's the one silver lining to all this. If this season is lost the world championships has a chance to be huge. There will be so much pent up demand for hockey and it the available player pool much deeper than normal. I'd rather see NHL hockey but at least that gives us something else to look forward to.
The report by Steve Burton was denied but this was also the guy who broke the story that Phil Kessel had cancer before anyone else did so here's to crossing our fingers that he is right.
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
I hear ya Mike.
Steve Urkel (Chicago)
I like Hutch's idea but it really shouldn't be for the cup
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
I think it would lose some of its buzz if it wasn't for the Cup. Still think it would be better than having another blank spot on the Stanley Cup.
Conor (San Jose, CA)
Not completely related to CBA, but if a shortened season is to come should there be a deal, do you have any teams that might benefit from a shortened season? Do you expect and big signings or trades if any deal is made?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Yeah, I anticipate some roster movement after the CBA is done. For one, Roberto Luongo will likely be moved fairly quickly. And depending on what the salary cap looks like or whether or not the new CBA includes any amnesty-like clauses could contribute to player movement.
What will be some signs that the meeting went well? Seems like the less both sides talk (or yell) after stepping out of the room the better the results.
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Exactly, CC. To me, if they make enough progress that they feel they need to meet again or set up another negotiating session, that would be a sign. If they come out and say they're still too far apart, it's a setback.
Mario lemieux (sewickley pa)
i feel left out of this meeting why didn't i get invited?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Don't worry Mario, your organization is well-represented by Ron Burkle.
If we see decertification, which is looking like it is increasingly possible, we can obviously kiss this season good-bye. Do you see the decertification having a negative impact on next season?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Jordan - There's also those who believe that it might spark a deal if the owners are truly concerned about this going to the courts. So I don't necessarily think it means we lose this season. But if the owners decide to dig in and fight, then it could get really ugly. And yes, next year could be impacted.
If a deal is signed within a week, what's the longest season we can expect? Is 66 games still possible, a la NBA last year? Here's a vote for a Dec. 26 start.
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Good question. It all depends on how aggressive the players want to be in cramming games in. I don't think 60 games is out of the question with a deal here in the next couple weeks. You might even be able to recoup some lost revenues by selling tickets during the holiday season. But let's not forget all the concussion talk last year. You don't want to push the players too much with a condensed schedule. It's a fine line.
Hey Craig- I am of the belief that there is cuplability on both sides for this lockout. But as this is the 3rd labor issue and we're on the precipice of losing a second entire season- all of which happened with Bettman as commish- how can fans possibly not hold the common denominator responsible? Is the NHL Commish supposed to be the caretaker of the game? Or is his primary job description merely to play "cabana boy" to the owners? Either way, how can Bettman possibly be viewed as someone who has served the fans, and more importantly, the game, in the best possible way?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Bettman is hired by the owners if that helps answer your question. But growing the game and being a caretaker also serves the owners through ultimately increasing revenues.
a hockey related question, now that the Islanders gonna play in Brooklyn, and the yotes look like they are staying put in Phoenix, are there any more teams that could move to say Quebec or KC?? or is that the end of the Nordiques dream to come back??
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Kevin - I've been saying it for awhile so I apologize for repeating myself but I think the best avenue for NHL teams for Quebec/Seattle, etc may end up being expansion. Especially if this Phoenix deal closes.
Potsie (Chicago via Boston)
Why haven't we heard which players are at this meeting yet? Sources say Crosby and Toewes potentially...but there isn't anything concrete yet. What gives?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Here are the 18 players in NY: Craig Adams David Backes Michael Cammalleri Sidney Crosby B.J. Crombeen Mathieu Darche Shane Doan Ron Hainsey Shawn Horcoff Jamal Mayers Manny Malhotra Andy McDonald Ryan Miller George Parros Brad Richards Martin St. Louis Jonathan Toews Kevin Westgarth.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, obviously union decertification is a complex process to understand and has huge risk/reward for both sides. One of the ESPN reporters (either you, Lebrun or Burnside) wrote a good article explaining the process. But in order for the players to have an antri-trust case....wouldn't they have to prove that the NHL has a monopoly on pro hockey? How can that be true when there is also the AHL and so many players have already gone to Europe for seemingly equal (or even greater) pay?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
That's why it's not a slam dunk. There are a lot of gray areas here that we really don't know the answer to because we haven't seen it play out in the courts. The KHL option doesn't help the case but at the same time there aren't unlimited roster spots available in the KHL. And the AHL isn't a viable alternative. Nobody is making $10 million per season in the AHL. But the fact that there are Canadian teams complicates things too. Lots of unknowns in decertification, as I tried to point out in yesterday's story.
Is today's meeting smoke and mirrors? Or can progress actually be made?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
The simple fact that we have some new voices in the room is a positive. I think including moderators last week was more smoke and mirrors. There's at least the outside possibility that this produces some progress. We'll see.
Justin (Long Island, Ny)
In a shortened season, Can the Islanders make things interesting? Being a young, talented and energetic squad that has been playing together for awhile.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
The shorter the season, the better things are for a team like the Islanders. I think some of these young teams with lots of guys playing now will have an advantage. Especially the Oilers. I wish I liked the Islanders goaltending better though. If there's a short season I think we'll see at least one surprise team ride a hot goalie into the playoffs.
Justin (Long Island, Ny)
Hockey in 2013: Yes or No
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
@DONCHERRYPARODY (COACH'S CORNER)
YKNOW CRAIG I HOPE THE PLAYERS WORE THEIR JERSEYS TA THIS MEETIN OTHERWISE GARY BETT MAN ISNT GONNA HAVE A CLUE WHO ANY A THEM ARE! EVEN WITH THE JERSEYS HES ONLY GOT A 50-50 SHOT! LET'S GO! (THUMBS UP)!
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Erik (San Francisco)
You're so much more accessible than Pierre LeBrun. Is there any reason Pierre never responds to tweets/questions? Craig Custance...man of the people!!!
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Thanks Erik - When you're as popular as Pierre who has hundreds of thousands of followers it's tough to respond to everybody. Believe me, Pierre is a man of the people and on the short list of my favorite people in the world to have a beer with.
ESPN is lacing up the skates for a game of shinny. What would the lines be? PS - Strangey gave you lots of props yesterday: She put you on the top line with Pierre and Burnside.
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Haha - Strangey. That's what I'm calling her from now on. She's just being modest. What about Barry Melrose? I think he'd be the captain of this team.
Expansion!??? We need less teams, not more!
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Just think of the additional jobs for the NHLPA and the additional revenue for the owners. I think it's inevitable.
At least my Gwinnett Gladiators are in first place in the ECHL Eastern Conference!
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Sadly, one of my regrets from living in Georgia is that I never made it to a Glads game. Enjoy it Aaron!
So when decertification happens and the league resumes in 2014 with no restrictions on cap and contracts, how many teams are still left in the league? I for one think that a league of about 16 teams in prominent hockey markets is the best thing for the sport, on and off the ice.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Yeah, a system like that would really make it hard for the small market teams to compete. Especially if they have to pay millions in antitrust damages. Safe to say things would look dramatically different. Don't think it will come to that though.
RR (Grand Rapids)
What is the latest with realignment? Will it happen next year?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
RR - That's one of many issues that was supposed to be cleared up during these CBA talks. I do believe we'll see it next year and I'd like to even see it this year. If we're doing a shortened season with an entirely regional schedule, I think the realignment plan from last December makes it even more workable. But that's all something that needs to be worked out in CBA negotiations.
Santa Claus (North Pole)
Craig, if you could have one hockey-related item magically appear under your tree for Christmas....what would it be? And don't say "a new CBA"...that is a cop-out that is out of my control. We are talking memorabilia here You like the Wings right.....what about a Barry Melrose autographed Wings jersey or a Juri Hudler signed KHL contract?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Mr. Claus - You lose your individual team fandom when you sign up for this job so no Wings stuff under the tree. But you never lose your citizenship. So I'd want a team autographed Miracle on Ice stick from the 1980 team. You can deliver that, right?
The villain switched from Gary Bettman to Jeremy Jacobs seemingly overnight. What happened to make this guy the antichrist? Is this warranted, media driven, or based off of rumors? As far as I can tell, you need 30% of the owners to do a lockout.Go Bruins.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
For one, he's been involved in every negotiation and I think it's safe to assume he's a hard-liner. Joe Haggerty's column (Google it if you haven't read yet) upped the focus on Jacobs. People are realizing that there's more than just one person to blame for this mess. I'm still surprised at how much individual players around the league let their own owners off the hook though. Like they have nothing to do with it.
Craig- Has the inclusion of NHL players in SOCHI 2014 part of this bargaining agreement? If they don't play it will be a shame as Vancouver 2010 was the best hockey I have seen in recent memory.
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Jake - Yeah, was just having a conversation about that with someone today. We're not that far off from team orientation camps this summer, it'd be nice to know if NHL players will be competing. It is a CBA issue but I believe the two sides could make a ruling on it even without a CBA. And the Olympic tournament in Vancouver remains the best sporting event I've ever covered. Incredible hockey. Incredible drama. Great for the game.
Peter (Niagara Falls)
The really people that our losng out here are the fans
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Fans and local businesses. Getting crushed right now.
Santa Claus (North Pole)
Craig, I should be able to deliver the Miracle on Ice Stick signed by all 20 team members. Those exist. The tougher get would be a 1996 Team USA World Cup of Hockey jersey signed by all team members. Some clear Hall of Famers on there. Those jerseys are impossible find...even without the signatures. Trust me, because one of the readers on this chat has desperately been trying to find one.
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
You can do it Santa. Also, my daughter really wants an American Girl doll. Make it happen big guy.
As a big AVS fan, I have been disappointed in our ownership here in Denver. I would love to see Josh Kroenke sell the team to a hockey passionate owner. That being said, what has been his stance in this lockout? Why have we not heard his name along with others throughout this process.
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Kai - Great question. I wish I had an answer for you. That organization is one of the most tight-lipped organizations in the game. That said, if there ever is a season, I like where the Avs are right now. Great collection of young talent. Great young captain in Landeskog. They're one of my surprise playoff teams.
I have heard that Stars first year owner Tom Gaglardi is one of the hardliners is this true? if so why would he take that stance without even a full season under his belt?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
There's a benefit for some of these new owners in smaller markets to hold out for the best possible deal because it would set them up for a long time. You figure they're in it for the long haul so teams like the Stars can take a big picture view of the negotiations. On the other hand, a team like the Kings, coming off a Stanley Cup and currently for sale, have to want to play right now. Tough to sell a team in a sport that is slowly draining itself of life.
Pat (Des Moines)
How can you send athletes who have no formal training on negotiating or general business acumen to go in and make a deal with men who have been doing it their whole lives? What result can we reasonably expect from these talks?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Right Pat. That's why the bigger deal to me is the inclusion of some new ownership voices like Burkle. But also don't underestimate the intelligence and acumen of guys like Ryan Miller, Jonathan Toews, Parros and others. Let's not forget that Steve Fehr is in the room too, so it's not like these guys are on an island.
Jon (Des Moines)
Been a while Craig, just had to let you know I'm getting tired of watching my Mystery Alaska DVD... HURRY THE HECK UP LEAGUE. That's all, have a good one!
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Good way to end it Jon. Hurry the heck up! Have a great week everyone.